Friday, February 6, 2015

The Fire Between Two

On this blog I've often written about my problem of separateness--the way I've always felt like the separation between self and other is oppressive, alienating, and lonely. I felt somehow despairing that you are not me and that I am not you, for I wanted it it all to be "one body" (2 Nephi 2:11). However, I recently realized that the premises of this problem rested upon unclear thinking on my part: because I didn't ever say what I meant by "separateness," the issue's unclear borders were allowed to swell to monstrous proportions. "Separateness" can actually mean several things. For instance, when I say "I am separate from you," this signifies that I am either a) different from you, or b) cur off from/opposed to you. What I didn't see in all my fretting over the issue is that difference does not equal opposition--I can be different from you without being opposed to or cut off from you. This naturally means that, though I may be separate from you in the way of difference, I can still be close to and intimate with you.

I ultimately realized that I conflated "sameness" with intimacy, whereas the two concepts could not be further opposed. If I must eliminate the difference between me and you to feel a sense of intimacy, then I long not for the co-presence of "two," but the creation of a "one." But a "one" can never be intimate with itself--intimacy needs two for it to be what it is. One, I have realized, is lonely. Only two provides any sense of belonging.
And yet, there is a sense in which the two are one. If you take "oneness" to refer to the state of intimacy, closeness, and love itself, the two can be one without ceasing to be two. However, this effort toward the irreduction of the two is difficult work. As Mormon theologian Adam S. Miller writes in his essay "Love, Truth, and the Meaning of Marriage" (buy the book):

"The maintenance of this fragile Two in its difference is arduous. The constant temptation is for one of the two positions to subsume the difference of the other under its own preferences and thus heal the breach. This is precisely what happens in any kind of chauvinism, male of female."

Especially in the case of sexual difference mentioned in this passage, we have a powerful lust to eliminate difference and to incorporate the other into our oneness. I certainly felt this, and I was extremely frustrated with how insatiable this desire seems to be. But this desire is in principle insatiable. As post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman writes in his essay "Pothos: The Nostalgia of the Puer Aeternus" (buy the book):

"Whether the other be [old to young], female to male, mother to child, death to life--in whatever form the other is constellated from moment to moment--it is beyond reach. The other is an unattainable image, or rather an image that is only attainable through the imagination."

Don't think for a minute that an insatiable desire is a bad thing. Desire is life--when I feel desire the most mindfully and with the most presence, I feel the most alive--and to kill desire is death. When I respect desire I respect the tension between the two, and any attempt to satisfy that desire is an attempt to subsume the two under the one. Whether with breath, food, sleep, or other things, we will never be free of this longing, but we can cease being its enemy. I have learned that desire is better thought of as a friend--you don't force it away by either purging or pandering to the desire, but you let it swell like a raging fire within you. This fire can be uncomfortable, but when befriended it can teach you more about life, death, and intimacy than anything else.

Addictions of any sort happen because a person lacks respect for this flame or for the tension between the un-reduced two.  If I mindlessly reach for a cigarette or click on one pornography website after another, I am seeking after a satisfaction for my desires that perpetually recedes. What the addict doesn't realize is that desire is its satisfaction--the tension between the two is a veritable reward of its own.

A major way in which the tension between the two reveals itself is in issues of gender. I am a man, and I will never know what it's like to be a woman. Similarly, any woman will never know what it is like to be a man. This irreducible difference creates a tension between the sexes, one which many of us seek to resolve by treating of the sexes from within a single paradigm. The problem with this, however, is that any attempt to bring everyone to an experiential "common playing field" removes the beauty and wonder of difference. Feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray perhaps puts it best in her book In the Beginning, She Was (buy the book):

"Our culture is based on a sharing of the same between those who have become the same. Sameness can take the form of material needs but also of cultural or spiritual needs at all levels. In such a culture, we are called to become all alike, on earth and in heaven. There must no longer be master or slave, rich or poor, white or black, and finally no longer man or woman....Within such a world, the intervals between things and between persons are already planned and subject to calculation. There is no longer any between-us that is free, available, still silent still alive. The subjects move on the chessboard of a closed whole. Humans make up a kind of puzzle, as is the case for the totality of the pieces of the logos. There is no longer the possibility for a real creation in human relationships, either horizontally or vertically. The spaces-between are already determined. Each one believes to be moving--as when a word occupies another place and apparently modifies the whole combination of words. In reality, the whole remains the same. Which produces an entropy in the system, an exasperation, necessary conflicts to simulate a possible evolution and, finally, a need to destroy the whole."

I am different from you--I cannot reduce your life, emotions, and knowledge to my own. We are "separate and distinct," and as such I cannot say that "I am you" or that "you are me." However, in order for us to be able to hold a meaningful relationship--to communicate feelings, to learn and grow from each other--there must be a medium or matrix in which we are both situated, a "between-place" that allows us to be intimate. This medium--this relational space that underlies all difference--is spirit (as explained here). As such, we only grow to know spirit through our encounters with one who is different from us, as the space this difference opens reveals eternity.

This window to eternity--one which only opens in the tension between the two--is what we experience as desire. Yes, the Spirit of God burns like a fire, but what most don't realize is that all fire hides this spirit. Whether my desire is satiable, insatiable, permissible or impermissible, when I keep that fire burning I can gaze into the fire of heaven. But as soon as I move to satisfy or purge that desire, the fire goes out, and the window to heaven closes.

As such, it is crucial that some sense of difference remains in our society. If everyone ultimately blends together into a melting pot of homogeneity, all I ever get is more of the same, more of myself, and the heavens close. I think that this is among the major reasons the Church opposes homosexuality as a sin. To engage in the sexual act--the supreme ritual of difference--with one of the same gender perhaps isn't evil, but it precludes that act's innate possibility to reveal eternity through the intimate juxtaposition of the sexes.

Heaven can open right now, if you have eyes to see it. All it takes is for you to respect the integrity of the two. If you don't quench difference and desire by reducing those two into one, you and the other will become the two sides of an opening that leads directly into the fires of eternity.